Playoff Round 3 Game 3 Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

San Antonio Spurs vs Oklahoma City Thunder

Game 3 - Chesapeake Energy Arena
May 31, 2012, 8:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: TNT - RADIO: WOAI 1200 AM

Mercifully, there is Western Conference basketball on tap for tonight. I'm not sure my eyes can take more of the "basketball" that's played in the ECF. Did that sound snobbish? I guess it did. But I'm a Spurs fan, and right now that means I've grown accustomed to a finer grade of ball than is normally found among the backwaters of the rest of the NBA. Yes, things are good in the Alamo City. The Spurs have taken two games in a row, at home and they have also won a certain number of games in a row that shall not be mentioned in the presence of Popovich (although I'm pretty sure that if the streak was a minor, it would be just about ready to come of age). Can they keep the streak alive and pull out a victory in OKC? Let's revisit what's happened in the series so far, and then get into the tonight's preview.

Game 1

1st Quarter

Defense

Spurs did a great job in keeping Westbrook out of the paint. They gave him the green light to take mid-range jumpers and in the 1st Quarter he went 1-6, with half of those being missed mid-range jumpers. Durant was non-existent and Coach Brooks then decided to switch it up with James Harden off the bench. The Beard came in and shot the ball, on average, once per minute. He went 0-4 in his time on the floor.

Offense

The Spurs Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan had three offensive rebounds apiece. They controlled the glass and punked out the defensive players on the offensive boards. Tony could have been more aggressive getting to the basket as he had 0 shots taken at the rim. Manu came in as the star of the quarter by going 3/5 including a three.

Quarter Differential +6

2nd Quarter

Defense

The Spurs allowed Durant into the paint. Durant started scoring and caused the defense to sag. The sagging defense let Derek Fisher take open shots and he torched the Spurs D, going 4-4. The Spurs still allowed Westbrook to shoot the mid-range jumper and he actually started making some of them.

Offense

Tony Parker was swarmed by OKC and went 0-3, with 1 assist and 2 turnovers. The ‘head of the snake' was effectively severed and the team suffered for it. The Spurs still distributed the ball well, with seven players scoring in that quarter. Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter both had good quarters and kept the Spurs in it.

Quarter Differential -7

3rd Quarter

Defense

The Spurs did not change it up much from the beginning of the game. Pressure Durant, allow Westbrook to take mid-range jumpers and close out on the perimeter. Durant went 3-6 but the shot selection favored the Spurs as two of his makes were long-range jumpers. Westbrook went 1-5, with four of those being mid-range jumpers.

Offense

The Spurs shot 25%. The cleaned up the turnover issue from the first half but their shooting was atrocious. They were saved by the Big Three, who combined for all of 16 of the Spurs points. Big Three: 6/14, 16 points, 9 rebounds, 0 assists. Everyone Else, 0-10, 0 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists.

Quarter Differential -8

4th Quarter

Defense

The Spurs got NASTY. Captain Jack hounded Durant, even taking an elbow from K.D. for good measure. Durant went 0-2 in the 4th with 6-6 freebies. With Durant effectively out of the picture, the pressure was on Westbrook and Harden to keep the Thunder chances of an upset alive. Westbrook went 2-5 and was still willing to try his hand as the MRJ. Harden started the entire 4th and failed to energize his team. Taking away some garbage time points, he had 2 points and 5 fouls.

Offense

Manu, Manu, Manu. The return of El Contusion. He banged, he battled, he got to the charity strip and went 3/3, with 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Manu decided to take over the game and there was no one to stop him.

Quarter Differential +12

Game 2

1st Quarter

Defense

Same as game one. Keep Westbrook out of the paint. Westbrook went 1/4 and all of them were mid-range jumpers. Durant was not to be denied the first quarter. He went 5/7 and the shots were from all over the floor. Kawhi could not keep up with him out of the gate. Harden came in and gave OKC an added attack. He put in 6 points, an assist and 2 rebounds in 4 minutes. Overall OKC had 4 players score their 22 points.

Offense

Tim stunk it up, going 1/6 but he gobble up boards with 6 and handed out 2 assists. Kawhi and Danny Green both put some added pressure on the OKC defense as they were hitting outside shots. Both went 2/4 with 5 points each. Tony Parker was unstoppable as he scored at will, going 5/7 with 3 dimes. Overall 7 Spurs contributed to the 28 point quarter.

Quarter Differential +6 *same as game 1, but with less turnovers

2nd Quarter

Defense

Pop decided that Kevin Durant was too hot and decided to switch it up on him by playing Stephen Jackson. Durant slowed down from a 5/7 shooting in the first, to a Spurs friendly 1/3 in the 2nd.

Fisher thought he would get in on the mix as Scott Brook ‘s second squad played for half the quarter. A wide open three was what Fisher thought he needed to get it going but it didn't happen. Fisher ended up going 1/6 and quickly sank back into the sea from his previous tidal wave of going 4/4 in game 1. Shout out to Jordan Leithart who called that one in his game preview.

No one else was left on the Thunder except for James Harden. When the second squad for OKC hits the floor, the men in black and silver are mainly focused on one thing and that is James Harden. This allows the Spurs to slow down OKC's dynamic scorer but there is a drawback and it was witnessed in game 2. Focusing all of their attention on Harden allows OKC to pick up offensive rebounds. The Spurs are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league but the change of focus from team defensive rebounding to shutting down one man comes at a cost. In this case it was 5 offensive rebounds and 7 second chance points for OKC in the quarter.

Tim Duncan passes Hakeem "the Dream" Olajuwon on the All-Time playoff block list. He is now 2nd behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He needs five blocks to pass him.

Offense

Manu was the catalyst for the second squad. He distributed, he drove, and controlled the flow of the game during his tenure as the point guard. The box score does not do him justice in this instance, as he only had 3 points and 2 assists in 6 minutes.

Tony came back in a lull and picked up where he left off in the first quarter. He went 3/4 with two freeibies and 2 assists in nine minutes. At one point he was running the pick and roll with Tiago and it was a thing of beauty. One play, Tony and Tiago took it a step further and got Kawhi Leonard in on the mix. OKC became demoralized as they could not stop the Spurs PnR nor the wee Frenchman who scored 3 baskets in a row against them.

Tim did not have a great offensive game and this could be summed up with his Tragic Johnson play were he attempted to play the 7 foot point guard. He lost the ball, it resulted in a jump ball, OKC got possession, Tim fouls Ibaka who goes 1/2 on the charity stripe and then OKC gets the offensive rebound. On the bright side, Tim was playing great on defense.

Quarter Differential +5

3rd Quarter

Offense

The quarter starts out with Danny Green getting into trouble and making a bad pass. This led to an OKC fast break but the Spurs would quickly turn it around. Passing, passing, passing. At one point, the Spurs scored on 5 straight possessions and one of them was an assist from Manu to Tony for a corner three. Tony felt like he was hacked a couple of times but was not getting the call. The wee Frenchman lost his temper at the lack of calls and went off on the Thunder with 4/5 shooting, including a tre' and two dimes. All together the Spurs ended up with 9 assists and a 37 point quarter. Up until the last few minutes of the quarter, when OKC decided to ‘hack a Splitter', the Spurs had been playing perfect, offensive basketball.

OKC's tactic worked. Pop's take on it, "I've never done that before. I think it's a really lousy thing to do. It's unsportsmanlike." If Stephen "Nasty" Jackson makes love to pressure, then Pop makes love to sarcasm.

It is a pretty good bet that Brooks will use this tactic again to slow down an unstoppable Spurs offense.

Defense

Westbrook started to hit some shots and went 4/8 scoring 8 points. He made it to the paint a couple of times but his jumper was falling as well. He will always have at least one good quarter.

Durant went 3/4 but more importantly shot 6 freebies. He ended up with 13 points and the Thunder scored 32 on the Spurs.

Quarter Differential +5

4th Quarter

Defense

Brooks must have told his team to leave it out on the floor and be aggressive because they did exactly that. OKC won the 4th Quarter, mainly on their 13/15 freebies which they got from their aggressive drivers. Westbrook took 8 shots and 6 of those were in the paint. Harden took 4 and all of them were in the paint. If OKC decides to use this strategy in game 3, the Spurs and Pop will have to make the necessary adjustments. But, I do not see OKC making the necessary changes to play this type of game all game. It is not their style. They are a jump shooting team and to ask them to change their modus operandi on offense in the possible last set of games in the season is too much to ask.

Offense

Tony, Manu and some Kawhi closed the book on this chapter in the OKC-SAS series. Tony kept it close to the paint, Manu was everywhere and Kawhi went long and then changed it up by driving to the rim.

Quarter Differential -7

And onto Game 3

Expect the Thunder to come out energized and ready to go. They are at home and their backs are against the wall. Although they have lost twice now against the Spurs, the Thunder believe that the Spurs have only held serve, according to their Coach Scott Brooks. But that doesn't mean that OKC is guaranteeing a win. "We definitely need to play better" said Brooks concerning a win in Game 3. Thunder point guard, Russell Westbrook, understands the importance of Game 3. He recently was quoted as saying, "Regardless of what's going on with this last game or the next game, we've got to worry about Game 3 and come in with the same mindset and try to get a win."

Game 3 will be a do or die for OKC. If they have a chance in this series, it will be in Game 3. They need this win and they know it. The Thunder will have to come out and play hard for 48 minutes...the question remains though, haven't they already given their best? Following Game 2's loss, the young super star Kevin Durant said, "We fought all game and we lost. We are upset about the loss." Few things are more discouraging than playing your hardest and still coming up short. The fact that this Spurs team has done this to OKC twice now, makes it even more difficult for the Thunder to overcome the mental hurdle.

Coach Popovich of the Spurs knows that his team still has room to improve. "We lost a little mojo when we called some plays and people didn't know where to go" said Pop. In a close game with a talented team, this can create a dangerous situation for the Spurs. Pop is known for his set plays and when his players fail to execute those set plays, you can guarantee that they will be drilling those plays into their heads. It's a good thing that this Spurs team is so good that Pop mentions this in passing, instead of it being a focus of his ire.

Relying on their MVP vote getting All-Star, Tony Parker and their dynamic Argentinian Manu Ginobili, the Spurs are a double headed snake. Where OKC had planned for Tony Parker being the snake, they failed to take in account that Manu was the leader of this team last season. He is more than capable of taking over and running the show either with Tony on the floor or with him resting. The Thunder now have to take into account both Tony and Manu, who have two totally different styles of beating you. As Tony recently told a reporter, "It's always been a battle my whole career, when you're a scoring point guard and Pop wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, and he wants you to score, and he wants you to pass. You go back and forth." And if Tony Parker is confused, then the OKC defense must really be out of sorts.

The Thunder are going to have to guard the high pick and roll if they want a chance. Westbrook will have to go under the screen and shut down the passing lane for the rolling big. Perkins (or the 5) can show on Parker but will need to get back enough to disrupt any pass to the rolling big. Durant will be covering the wing and should shut down the open three. Although this by no means fool proof, it is a tactic I expect to see from the Thunder. Offensively, the Thunder need to get into the paint. Their most successful quarters against the Spurs were when they aggressively attacked the rim. Whether it be Durant, Westbrook or Harden, someone needs to get into the grill of the Spurs and take it to the hole. Of course, offense really hasn't been the problem for OKC. Their main quest is "how we go going to slow the Spurs down?".

The Spurs should not be making any major changes. Pop understands that adjustments are made and that each game is unique. The driving force in the Spurs' game plan will be aggression. "You never go out and say, 'We're going to start out fast," Popovich said. "You don't know what is going to happen. You just want your team to be aggressive. Good teams are aggressive, and it is, it's a matter of making shots or not making shots." Hopefully the Spurs give themselves the opportunity to make more shots than the Thunder.

Game Prediction: San Antonio will continue to improve and win a close one.

Lineups

Starters
PG: Tony Parker
SG: Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Boris Diaw

Key Bench Players
Gary Neal
Tiago Splitter
Stephen Jackson
Manu Ginobili

Lineups

Starters
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Thabo Sefolosha
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins

Key Bench Players
Nick Collison
James Harden
Derek Fisher

NBA Stats Cube Lineup Comparison Here. Thunder perspective can be found at Welcome to Loud City

As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.

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